In what to me is one of the most remarkable pieces of information given to us in the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, the apostles are given a wonderful promise. I am referring to the events recorded in the 16th chapter of Matthew when Jesus went with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi. Mark makes brief mention of this event, but not nearly in the detail that Matthew records.
This narrative is remarkable from the standpoint of where Caesarea Philippi is and what was located there. There were two cities by the name of Caesarea in northern Palestine. This one was distinguished from Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast by the addition of the name “Philippi” because Philip the tetrarch had rebuilt the city in honor of Tiberius Caesar.
We will never know why Jesus took his disciples the distance of about 30 miles (about 48km) to have a conversation with them because none of the gospel writers told us. Jesus was not just making “small talk” when he asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus had been preaching and performing miracles, creating quite a stir, for some time at this point. The disciples, being out among the people would have heard speculation as to who Jesus was. They reply, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Jesus then asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus commends Peter for this answer, saying that he had not learned this from man, but had received this knowledge from the Father who is in heaven.
Ordinarily we rush over this conversation to get to the part about Jesus intention to build his church, but when we do this we overlook some very important points. The confession Peter made is of great significance. When he said, “You are the Christ,” he was confessing that Jesus was the One whom the Father had sent as the Messiah, the “Anointed One,” the promised King for whom Israel was looking and who would be the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies.
This realization on the part of Peter means that he was “getting” what Jesus was about – which is more than can be said about most 21st century Christians. Peter realized that Jesus had come to be King over God’s kingdom. Most people today, following a long tradition of interpretation, believe Jesus came to die so that those who believe in him can go to heaven when they die. Of course, personal salvation is a part of the reason he came, but there is something else that most people do not ever take into consideration – the kingdom part. That is not incidental to his mission. It really is central. As we have previously seen, from the beginning of his preaching his message was centered on the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God.
The message of personal redemption, as popularly preached in evangelical churches, holds that the ultimate aim for man is to “go to heaven when we die.” Period. Stop. End of story. Oh, yes, we will “live happily ever after,” but there is little that anyone thinks about beyond that. But if we consider what is said about Jesus we will realize that something amazing happened when he came to this earth, died on the cross, was resurrected and then ascended back to heaven. When Jesus rose from the dead he became the “second Adam,” the beginning of a new creation.
Rom 5:17 “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
Death reigned through the first Adam on account of the sin he introduced into the perfect creation. All human beings – indeed, all of creation – since that first sin have suffered and continue to suffer the consequences of Adam’s action. He could offer no respite, no remedy, no rescue. But Jesus did what Adam could not do. Through his death he became the atonement for the sins of the whole world.
But there were other things he accomplished as well. He became not just the atonement for the sins of mankind, but the remedy for all the consequences of sin as well. And just as the children of God await their ultimate reward, so the whole creation which now groans as a result of Adam’s sin will be redeemed when the children of God receive their inheritance. When we receive our inheritance “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21).
Another thing that resulted from Jesus taking his place at the right hand of God was that man was now restored to his rightful place God intended for him from creation. Man was made to be in the image of God. Jesus, though he came from heaven, took upon himself a body of flesh, knew all the trials and temptations we know, overcame them all and then died as a human being. When he was resurrected it was in a glorified body like the body those human beings resurrected to immortality will possess when he comes again. When he ascended to heaven it was in that same resurrected body. When he sat down at the right hand of God (was exalted to the throne of heaven) it was as a resurrected human.
That means that a genuine, perfected human being is the actual ruler over all of creation. A man, though not just a man but a perfected and glorified man, is in the place God always wanted man to occupy. Here is how the apostle Paul saw this wonderful truth:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20).
So, what does this mean for us? How are we to live in view both of what Christ did in dying for us and in terms of what he now is as king over this universal kingdom which encompasses all creation? Are we just to be good until such a time when we can “go to be with the Lord?” Or is there work to be done in view of the larger picture – in terms of this universal kingdom?
Kingdom service should be considered the mission of every Christian. Everything we do should be seen in light of furthering the interests of Christ’s kingdom because it is furthering the interest and mission of this wonderful new world of which we are a part. That sometimes is difficult for us to realize. The effects of sin have not yet been eradicated so there are tremendous hindrances and discouragements. Sometimes it seems as though the kingdom ideal is very far away, what with people at war – nation with nation, within communities and within families. There is so much suffering and pain, sorrow and disappointment while we are struggling to connect with a God who at times seems very far away.
But this is exactly where the kingdom has its greatest opportunity and thus its greatest responsibility. Where the greatest hurt is is where the kingdom can have its greatest effect. People of the kingdom have the responsibility of showing how life in surrender to the rule God is where tears are wiped away, where sorrows are ended, where pain is assuaged and where loss is canceled because of the gain that is realized in knowing Christ. This is where the kingdom, manifested by the good works of its citizens, shows there is hope in hopelessness and where there can be wholeness out of brokenness.
While there is certainly the need for hope beyond this life, that hope means little to people who are hurting from the consequences of sin in the present. The victim of rape is in need, not of forgiveness, but of acceptance and a sense of self-worth in an environment of safety and support. The recovering drug addict is in need, not just of forgiveness, but of support and encouragement in overcoming addictive behavior. The child who has been the victim of neglect or of parental abuse is in need of patient understanding, accepting love and support as he deals with deep-seated feelings of worthlessness and possibly destructive behavior. The kingdom, the rule of God is about setting things right and we are, as far as we can with God’s help, in this world to set things right.
It is in areas such as these just mentioned – and a million more – that people of the kingdom must respond with the judgment of God – not against the victims, but of the sin that brought these things into the world. And we do that by the restorative ministration of love that meets the needs of people where they are hurting – where sin has wounded them.
The model for this kind of kingdom activity, of course, is Jesus. What moved him to heal the lame, the blind, the demon possessed, the lepers and to feed the hungry? It wasn’t just to prove his deity, as some have long insisted, but to model the ideal of humanity as well. It was his holy compassion. In doing all these things he was expressing what God is like and in so doing was modeling what the kingdom of God would be like. He was harshly criticized by the most religious people for keeping company with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. But by doing what he did he was showing us, his followers, how we should live our lives in the kingdom of God.
It is a sad commentary on our perception of our Lord when we turn his kingdom inward, focusing on the fine points of doctrine while neglecting the things he spent his time here on earth doing. Such is a commentary on our own failures as Christ followers and proof of our own self centeredness and lack of Christ likeness.